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  • Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez
  • Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez
  • Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez
  • Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez
  • Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez
  • Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez
1. Raúl Moreno listens to his wine 2. Harvesting in South Africa 3. Part of his portfolio 4. In the winery 5. Qvevri buried in albariza 6. The winners of Spain's 2022 Tasting in Teams Championship. Photos: Abel Valdenebro (the good ones), Y.O.A

Wineries to watch

Raúl Moreno brings a disruptive vision to the wines of Jerez

Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | April 8th, 2024

At first glance, most advocates of terroir wines will frown at Pinot Noir or Arinto grapes grown and aged in Jerez. Overcoming these prejudices requires willpower and a lot of blind tasting, but a clever shortcut to opening your mind is to try the wines Raúl Moreno has been making from these and other foreign varieties in the albariza soils of Jerez since 2017.

These are mostly still wines, with minimal intervention and maximum personality, in which he seeks the purity of the grape variety, but also freshness and the bond with terroir. The explanation of why these varieties, and why in Sherry Country, is to be found in the personal and professional journey of Moreno, a globetrotting Seville man, born in 1979, who has undoubtedly made the most of the opportunities life has offered him. 

At the age of 18, he left his first job at Taberna del Alabardero in his hometown to move to London, where he managed to secure a place in the kitchens of Marco Pierre White's refined Mirabelle (2 Michelin stars) before moving to the front of house. With study and perseverance, he not only improved his English and his qualifications (from non-drinker to completing the WSET Diploma and Master Sommelier Advanced level), but also made the leap to the US, where he joined chef Joël Antunes' team of sommeliers, and later to Australia, a country where he learned that it pays to experiment and take risks in life. 

When he landed in the Antipodes, he couldn't get a job as a sommelier, so Raúl, who was a keen diver, joined the Melbourne Aquarium as a diving instructor and later went to the Barrier Reef to take people diving with sharks. After this period of intense emotion, he returned to the restaurant business, started a wine importing company and, in his thirties, began studying for a degree in Wine Science. When he finished his studies, now as a lecturer in sensory analysis at the University of Melbourne and with an Australian passport, he travelled around the world doing grape harvests to broaden his experience. He was always tired, but his youth and desire led him to do up to six harvests a year, combining early and late harvests in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Burgundy (pictured below at Domaine Dujac), Portugal, Austria, Georgia and Spain.

"Some people have a very clear idea of what they want from the start, but I have always been guided by what life has handed me. Destiny made me a winemaker and that's what I do and I'm happy, but I think I'd be good at anything I took seriously," Raúl confides. Now married to a Brazilian woman he met at university in Australia and with two young children, he enjoys a quieter life in Seville, but does not rule out one day returning to Australia, where he lived for almost two decades.

A Portuguese touch

His first contact with the vineyards of Jerez was in 2017. He used to buy grapes from mayetos (small growers) to make whites aged in amphorae and Georgian qvevris buried in albariza under the names Las Cepas de Paco or Las Cepas de Curro, but from the 2021 vintage he launched his own project called Raúl Moreno. He now has 14 wines on the market, with names such as La Pretension, Dark 'n' Stormy and La Castidad, which refer to different stages in his life.

As well as buying organic grapes from growers in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez and Trebujena, Raúl is gradually acquiring his own vineyards. He farms a handful of small organic and biodynamic plots in the lower part of Miraflores in Sanlúcar (pictured below), where he has made a massal selection of old Palomino clones. With this variety, he makes wines under flor in manzanilla and amontillado butts, such as the deep and saltine El Propósito (1,300 bottles, €32), or the organic Fino Solera, which he started from scratch - very few producers do - to be released in a few years' time. 

In addition to these and other traditional varieties, he has also grafted various clones of Arinto, Baga and Encruzado onto old vines that he brought back from Portugal after completing his Masters in Organic Agriculture and Livestock at the UNIA University, where he wrote his thesis on Portuguese varieties adapted to climate change in Andalusia.

Although he has already started the paperwork, none of these varieties are officially authorised in Cadiz, so he cannot use them on the labels of wines such as Destellos (Palomino and Arinto fermented in amontillado or manzanilla casks) or La Esencia, a blend of Tintilla, Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Arinto fermented in clay tinajas. "For me, these varieties improve some wines. Instead of adding tartaric acid, I use Arinto," he says, explaining that he makes Palomino sparkling wines with a little Baga and Arinto. "Palomino doesn't have the protein to make a quality sparkling wine, so Baga and Arinto make up for it. Perruno, a variety with which I also make a single-varietal wine [La Retahíla], provides that protein, but it doesn't have the acidity of Baga or Arinto.”

Chardonnay in pago Carrascal

As he loves to experiment, French varieties are also well represented in Raúl Moreno's wines, whose range includes a couple of Chardonnays and three Pinot Noirs, one of them, the crunchy entry-level La Inflexión, is blended with Syrah (1,300 bottles, €18). This Rhone variety is also present in the Palomino blend of the intriguing and unclassifiable La Femme d'Argent (1200 bottles, €26), a rosé aged under flor in French oak and sherry casks with the nose of fino and the palate of an airy, saline red.

These French grapes come from a 20-hectare estate in Pago Carrascal (pictured above) whose owners are American and with whom Raúl hit it off as soon as he arrived in Jerez. "When I came here I never intended to make Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, but I met this couple, tasted wines made with their grapes and thought it had potential," says Raúl, who buys the entire Chardonnay harvest produced by the estate, which was planted in 2017 and has average yields of 3,000-4,000 kg/ha. "For me, they are one of the best growers in Jerez. Nobody here sells grapes as expensively as they do, but the quality is phenomenal.”

El Día (660 bottles, €40) and La Noche (1000 bottles, €32) are his two Chardonnays. In the former, fermented and aged in oak, he seeks purity of fruit, freshness and complexity, while in La Noche, made in amphorae with lees, he seeks energy and the oxidative character of the clay. In both, Raúl avoids the tropical and generally more alcoholic style of other Chardonnays made in Spain. During our visit we tasted about half a dozen barrels, with grapes harvested at different stages and from different cooperages, grains, toasts, sizes and ages, which he then blends to create the wine profiles he likes. We found the result to be a fascinating collection of textures and nuances, with balance as the common thread.

With such a wide portfolio, the labels may all look very similar at first glance, but there is a logic to it all, says Raúl, who explains that they are grouped according to the origin of the grapes. All the wines from Jerez, for example, have an image of Pago Carrascal. Those from Sanlúcar have the Pinar de la Algaida, those from El Puerto have the Salinas de la Tapa, and those from Trebujena, such as the fresh and distinctive La Retahíla Perruno, have a sunset over the Guadalquivir estuary. The acronyms of the varieties are shown on the back labels.

Qvreris, Carles Llach and chestnut

While he describes his project as minimal intervention and draws inspiration from producers such as Marcel Lapierre, he refuses to classify his wines as natural. "For me, hygiene in the winery is very important, I never exceed 40 mg of total sulphur and I don't filter, but if you taste my wines you'd never say they are natural," Raúl says. "I don't like defects; in my wines I look for precision, purity and quality"

He also avoids acidification, but has no qualms about it if he has to. "This year I filtered two wines very lightly; one had a bit of volatile acidity and the other didn't settle, and I don't use bentonite. If I have to intervene, I do. I have nothing to hide.”

To avoid the raw taste he finds in many natural wines, he carries out long macerations on the skins, hyperoxidation of the musts and phenolic polymerisation using containers such as oak, but above all chestnut and various types of clay. He keeps the qvreri he brought from Georgia, but he also likes the permeability of Carles Llach's raw clay amphorae. 

"They have a strong negative electrical charge, which keeps the wine fresh; they act like a water jug, but impart flavour to the wine. Of course, you have to be careful how long you keep the wine in them; I never leave it for more than eight weeks after fermentation," explains Raúl, who adds that he always finishes his wines in wood or stainless steel. "I don't think that clay alone gives the elegance or texture that I'm looking for. For me, the second step is a different oxygen exchange, which is provided by oak or chestnut". So in the cellar he has an eclectic collection of French oak vessels, old sherry casks, white Port pipes and even Cognac and Madeira barrels.

The winery in Balbaína

In addition to his own wines, Raúl is the technical director of two other emerging projects in the region: Dominio de las Ánimas and Sotovelo. They are owned by the Alsatian-Catalan Thomas de Wangen, former distributor of González Byass in Asia (pictured left), and Charles Rolls (pictured centre), the British creator of Fever-Tree Tonic and the man who relaunched Plymouth Gin. They are part of a cluster of investors and producers who have recently arrived from outside the region, including Chile's Marcelo Retamal and Peter Sisseck.

Although both Thomas and Charles have several wines yet to be released - the latter has created a Fino solera from scratch with Palomino grapes from Balbaína, which will be available in 2025 - Sotovelo, an unfortified white wine, was released in the 2022 vintage and its 20,000 bottles were sold mainly in the UK. Of the 2023 vintage, which Raúl describes as the best since he arrived in Jerez, around 50,000 bottles have been produced (18 €, £22) and the idea is to increase this to a maximum of 80,000 bottles. It is an organic Palomino from the Dominio de las Ánimas estate, with 10% maceration of skins and aged under a veil of flor, but with a more polished, unctuous and sophisticated profile than Raúl's wines, albeit with a well-defined saline character and southern texture. 

The winery where Sotovelo and Raúl's wines are made and aged is Dominio de las Ánimas, located in the stables of a 12th-century Moorish castle, recently restored by Thomas de Wangen, in the upper reaches of Pago Balbaína, between Jerez and El Puerto de Santa María. "Historically, Barbadillo had four large vineyards - El Cuco, El Cuadrado, Viña Corrales and Dominio de las Ánimas - but they sold them because they thought their vineyards should be closer to Sanlúcar. The grapes from all four were crushed in these stables, which are now our barrel room," says Raúl.

Exposed to the westerly winds and overlooking Sanlúcar's Pago Miraflores and the town of Rota, Dominio de las Ánimas is surrounded by 22 hectares of vineyards whose soils, mainly a type of albariza called tosca cerrada, are "the best in Jerez, along with those of Carrascal and Macharnudo", according to the Seville producer, who also sources grapes from this Pago for his personal range of wines. The estate is adjacent to another owned by Peter Sisseck, who bought it to prevent windmills from being installed in front of his vineyards, and where he now plans to build a new bodega.

Dominio de las Ánimas, which has been organic for three years, has a lot of Palomino, as well as some Arinto and Baga. In addition, Thomas and Raúl have embarked on a small project to recover traditional Andalusian varieties grafted onto old vines, such as Vigiriega Blanca, Mantúo de Pilas, Perruno, Beba, old clones of Palomino and Jaen Blanco, which Raúl brought over from the high plateau of Granada. "The potential of Jerez is incredible," he says. "There are so many things that can be done here!.”


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Unfortified whites from Jerez: back to the roots and the soil
César Saldaña: “Jerez would benefit if other wine regions did biological ageing”
A complete Sherry guide: our best articles about the region
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